A decade ago, as fan culture on the internet was just getting its bearings in video, Dragon Ball Z Abridged was born. A fan-led project spawned by a deep love for the Dragon Ball, it would go on to gain unprecedented traction and have an impact on the fandom as a whole — perhaps more deeply than we thought.
Dragon Ball Z Abridged from Team Four Star is a video series recapping the events of the Dragon Ball Z anime, but not quite in summary format. It takes the series well-known formula of stretching one-on-one battles out for several episodes worth of content and condenses them into 10 to 15-minute shows. It also adds a ton of humor, riffing and embellishing on tropes already present in the DBZ series and making them more pronounced and absurd.
Any devoted Dragon Ball fan will tell you their excitement at the announcement of Dragon Ball Super, which premiere in 2015 and was the first new Dragon Ball anime in 18 years. But Super is unlike its predecessors it that it, like Abridged, leans into and magnifies its tropes. Which begs the question: did Dragon Ball Z Abridged have a deeper impact on series beyond just the fandom?
What Happened to Goku in Super?
The word “intelligent” doesn’t come to mind when you think of Dragon Ball’s main hero, Goku. But I don’t think “oblivious idiot” was ever on the table as well. But fans watching Dragon Ball Super can agree on one thing: Goku has actually become stupider. It has not escaped notice that the Saiyan’s normally cheerful and playful has been replaced with full-blown idiocy. He’s become simple. And we may have Dragon Ball Z Abridged to thank for that.
One of the hallmarks of Team Four Star’s video series is that Goku’s mental immaturity has been cranked up to 11. DBZ Abridged‘s Goku repeatedly mispronounces “Freiza” as “Freizer,” doesn’t know what sex is despite having married a woman and giving her two children, and is involved in some particularly obvious “look-at-how-dumb-he-is” jokes like the Muffin Button incident.
Goku is also used a foil for his son Gohan, who is portrayed as highly-intelligent and in constant awe of his father’s bad parenting and inability to complete simple tasks. (It’s also worth noting that in Super, Gohan has become an actual scholar — a nod perhaps to the Abridged version of Chi-Chi constantly pushing academics on him?)
Goku was never the smartest crayon in the box, but he certainly wasn’t a bumbling idiot. After all, he had the fortitude and courage to continuously fight to save the world. But in Abridged, he’s just plain dumb. And in Super, we’re seeing a similar version of Goku, down to his stubbornness in being best friends with Vegeta despite the latter’s ever-simmering disdain for him. Seeing as Abridged is the only place we’ve seen super-simple Goku before, it’s not hard to imagine the creators seeing fans’ enjoyment of this work and taking a leaf from Team Four Star’s book.
Look Who’s Fighting in FighterZ
Another more recent piece of the Dragon Ball universe is the upcoming 2D fighting game, Dragon Ball FighterZ. In the game’s story mode, a new character — Android 21 — leads the charge in an all-out battle between some of the series’ biggest heavy hitters. Just by looking at the cast, though, it’s difficult to not see more parallels between it and DBZ Abridged.
Being the current anime series, it feels as though characters from Super should have the most representation. But while there are characters and character variants (like SSGSS Goku and Vegeta) from Super, there are more from the series past — characters that had a ton of screen time and gained more popular traction through DBZ Abridged:
- Android 21: DBZ Abridged’s current arc is the Cell Games, in which our heroes battle it out against Perfect Cell. Prior to that, it spent a lot of time with Androids 16, 17, and 18, as well as Dr. Gero. The actual Androids Saga happened in Dragon Ball Z in 1992 — more than 25 years ago. It’s not exactly fresh on people’s minds. But here is a new Android with a connection to this old plotline — something recently shown in Abridged just last year. Coincidence? Why else would developers pull from this old storyline?
- Captain Ginyu and the Ginyu Force: Abridged spent several episodes on the Ginyu Force, parodying them like super sentai. They were minor characters in DBZ, and again have been pulled from the old, original Freizer plotline. Abridged built a ton of jokes around these characters, making them some of the more memorable ones from the series. Another coincidence?
- Perfect Cell: Perfect Cell is the current focus of Abridged, played as being charismatic and more than a little flirtatious. He is from the old Android Saga storyline, so it makes sense to see him brought back with Android 21 in play. But how much do we have Abridged to thank for his inclusion?
- Nappa: A minor character from the very beginning of Dragon Ball Z, Nappa’s inclusion here is even more telling of Abridged’s influence. Nappa is portrayed in Abridged as incredibly simple, like Goku, and over-enthusiastic. He pesters Vegeta constantly and is a collection of loud, crazy one-liners. After his death, however, Team Four Star has kept Nappa in their show in the form of short scenes insinuating he’s either a ghost or a producer on the show. It’s clear Nappa is beloved by Team Four Star, and he’s one of the series’ fan favorites. So his inclusion in FighterZ is pretty suspicious.
Where Does It Start? Is There More?
With all that to chew on, it’s hard not to look at the future of Dragon Ball and not tie Dragon Ball Z Abridged to it. The fan creation reinvigorated older parts of the series and created smart, funny adaptations of the series’ tropes. But just how much it too much fan influence? It’s not impossible that Akira Toriyama and the series’ producers have seen what Team Four Star has done and how fans have responded to it. It’s not incredibly farfetched for them to think they’re giving their audience exactly what they want, based on how popular the decade-long fan series has become.
Perhaps we’ll see more of this moving forward, and the Dragon Ball series is developing in a sort of cyclical nature. After all, it was fan fervor that brought the series back to TV after nearly two decades of silence. Maybe fan fervor and adaptation will also continue to influence the content that makes it in.